Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Arts & Culture

Back In The 80s At Lamb's Playhouse

The cast of miXtape. Photo by Nathan Peirson.
The cast of miXtape. Photo by Nathan Peirson.
mixed tape feature audio file

Journey back into the 80s with 'miXtape'

It’s Friday night in the Gaslamp, and a group of six women span the sidewalk, dressed up for a girls night out. This is not your typical girls night. These women are dressed in 80s clothes. There are side ponytails, spandex tights, and, of course, rubber bracelets and neon. Suddenly, they break into song, singing the chorus to "8675309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutone. (Remember that one? Yeah, sorry it's in your head now).

They’ve come to Lambs Player’s downtown San Diego theater to see the company’s hit musical “miXtape.” It’s now the longest running play in Lamb’s history, and its success can be attributed to fans like these. One of the women wearing a multicolored neon jacket speaks for the group: "We were saying as soon as we get in there, we’re gonna be like 'We love this song! Oh wait, we love this song.' Get up dance. We had to come. Girls night."


Sharing the experience of "miXtape" seems to be common. Lamb’s has accommodated bachelorette parties, work parties, and groups of friends.

Actor Leonard Patton has been performing in "miXtape" from the very beginning. He says the musical is one long medley of 80s songs, close to 120, in all. "It’s a crazy fun wild journey through the 80s. It explores things like cartoons, commercials, things like MTV, and TV themes, we talk about the Cosby Show."

Today, one can create iPod playlists and download songs from the internet. But for those of us who grew up in the 80s, it wasn’t that easy. A lot of effort went into making a cassette tape that captured all the drama of being a teenager. Patton gets at the time investment: "Back then you sat by the radio and recorded for hours to get songs so that’s what I did. Everybody had mixtapes for every single occasion – for their boyfriend, girlfriend and for their friends going on road trips."

"MiXtape" has struck a chord with audiences, especially those who grew up during the 80s. Some return to see it over and over again. We’re drawn to the music of our youth partly out of nostalgia, but part of it is actually the way our brains develop, according to Daniel Levitin. He is a neuroscientist and musician who researches how music affects our brains. He says that "by the age of 20, for must of us, our musical tastes are somewhat fixed." Levitin explains that in the first decade of life, "the brain is in a mode where it’s trying to establish as many new connections as possible. It slows down about the age of 20, but before the age of 20, our brains are literally becoming hard-wired to the inputs they receive, including music."

Of course, this is also a time when we’re rebelling against our parents and developing our identities, which makes for a potent set of memories. David Szymanski has seen "miXtape" nine times: "It’s when you develop yourself. Everyone has their genre they started listening to when they were younger. Especially after their parents manipulated them with their music. They then found their own. That’s why I think it stays with everybody."


In the lobby before the show, enthusiastic audience members are singing 80s songs. Marci Anne Wuebben is one of the actors in "miXtape." She says audiences often sing along with the actual performance. "I remember the first time it happened. It just takes a couple and as soon as others join in, and then they’re all back in the 80s. I remember I was singing a Madonna tune and I couldn’t even hear myself sing the audience was singing for me."

Cynthia Loera is attending "miXtape" for the first time, and she’s wearing an 80s outfit for the occasion. She’s looking forward to the Madonna songs in "miXtape," which remind her of growing up with her brothers and sisters. "There was a lot of Madonna in my house. We used to do all her videos, all the dancing. It maybe wasn’t as graceful, but it was pretty good."

The typical theater-going audience at Lambs tends to be 50 and up, but the audiences for "miXtape," are much younger. Which is a real boon in a theater community scrambling to attract younger patrons.

Who knows, maybe 30 years from now, we’ll be talking about a musical called "iPod."

Corrected: December 11, 2023 at 4:26 AM PST
Video by Katie Euphrat